The Movie Club

Recommended (Foreign) Comedies

Dear Everyone,

I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Actually, though our readers may be wondering how long this generously expanded dialogue could possibly linger on, I, entering my third day and just warming up, would love more time. I’d like to pursue Roger’s key point about the number of films this year whose narratives were jumbled out of order or leading the viewer on a (usually futile or diversionary) detective hunt to decipher not just the plot but the approximate identity of the human beings appearing on screen. Thus, if you strung together Mulholland Drive, Memento, and Donnie Darko, the theme of the year would be “What the hell happened? Did you get what happened? Here’s my theory about what happened.” 

I would like to add more names to David’s list of daring, undersung performances. (If pursued, this line of inquiry would lead inevitably to the question of why movies aren’t better when we have such brave, ready talent at hand, which would lead to a discussion of foul writing. But leave that for another day. …) Quickly, though I disliked Moulin Rouge, it occurs to me that Ewan McGregor didn’t get the credit he deserved for transcending its showy noise with a warm, manly romanticism reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s; given the fashion for refrigerator turns like George Clooney’s in Ocean’s 11, this was a brave choice, and I appreciated it.

Tony, you frighten me with your vision of the ideal film critic as someone whose emotional age is half her physical one; who demonstrates a distressing degree of confusion as to what people around her think, desire, and mean when they speak; and whose first instinct is contempt (a quality, by the way, not equivalent to intelligence). But your ideas about why our comedies seem to sink lower every year are inspiring. Yes, Gwyneth Paltrow was better than one could have hoped in Shallow Hal, and the movie was worse than one could have feared. I would like to recommend three foreign comedies—not because being foreign they are somehow better, but because they entertain with a sophistication and insight that every culture has the right to demand; American comedies have done this just fine in the past and no doubt will again, but if we have to import the genre for a while, so be it. The first is Together, Lukas Moodyson’s ridiculous tale of hippies getting on each other’s nerves in a ‘70s commune; I thought it was a little too alarmist about women’s lib, but it was great to see comedy actually addressing the culture it grew out of. Finally, there’s The Taste of Others. I adored this film about a tacky businessman who falls in love with a snobby struggling artist—it finds charisma in unglamorous people and great depths of humor in the kind of social specialization that takes place in modern cities. Finally, there’s Va Savoir (a film Jonathan liked, too, if I’m not mistaken), Jacques Rivette’s slow-starting but thrillingly constructed romp about a theater couple considering adultery in Paris. Incidentally, this prompted what may be the weirdest ad blurb of the year, which makes me laugh whenever I think of it: Your colleague Elvis Mitchell at the Times was quoted calling it “Nimble, funky, and ephemeral!”

And now I’m afraid I have to go to an appointment. It upsets me that I haven’t made the case yet for one of my very favorites, The Man Who Wasn’t There; with Slate’s permission I might ask for the chance to post something brief on it this evening, even if technically we’ve shut down. 

Meanwhile, this has been a privilege.

Thanks and farewell,
Sarah Kerr